Item of the Day: A Letter to the Author of a Pamphlet, Called Taxation no Tyranny (1775)

Full Title:  An Appendix to a Letter to Dr. Shebbeare. To Which are Added, Some Observations on a Pamphlet Entitled,   Taxation no Tyranny: In which the Sophistry of That Author’s Reasoning is Detected.  By a Doctor of Laws.  London:  Printed for J. Donaldson, Corner of Arundel Street, In the Strand.  MDCCLXXV.



I have read your ingenious pamphlet, by which you make as much of the subject you write on as it is capable of:  but I submit a few observations on the subject of it to your consideration.

1.  You say, that it is the right of the supreme power, in every community, to demand the necessary contributions from those who are subject to it, and that this was never denied till lately, by the lovers of anarchy in America.

I never heard that the Americans denied this position; but they affirmed another position, that that supreme power may give to settlers in any new Colony what privileges they think proper.  All lands are derived to the subject from the sovereign; and the moment they are in the crown, they can be given by it to the subject, on which condition it pleases.  This is the rule with regard to charters granted by the crown, even here in Britain; and when these charters are granted, they cannot be violated by the crown, nay nor by the parliament, justly; for the nature of a free government is such, that all property is inviolable, except the possessor of it do something which forfeits the right he has to the protection of his property, by the laws of his country.  There are instances, to be sure, where, for the publick good, private property may be exchanged for its value with the proprietor:  but these things are never to be done, except in cases of necessity.  The case of the Americans is still more favorable:  their predecessors, at the risk of their lives and fortunes, enlarged the British dominions, and had charters granted them by the crown for their encouragement; and amongst other privileges, they had a power given them of taxing themselves, which they have possessed for about 200 years.  And would it be right for either king or parliament to take of these subjects in America their money, in any other way than what is approved of by their charters?  If it be said, that this privilege of taxing themselves is not exclusive of any taxation by parliament; the answer is evident, that in that case their privileges, by their charter, of taxing themselves are nothing, because a parliament may tax them to the utmost they can bear, and then tell them, they may tax themselves when they please, when they can bear no more.  This new scheme of ministers breaking in upon charters in America, and their constant custom for about 200  years, has always appeared to me below the dignity of the crown and parliament, who have both of them often homologated these privileges, by the continuation of which, we should in a few years be the greatest nation in Europe, and by oppressing America we shall lose our trade with them, ruin our manufacturers, lessen the number of our sailors, and consequently lessen our security against our natural enemy the French.

2.  You say, it would be a reflection upon English power and English honour not to tax America.  In my opinion, instead of being a reflection upon English power and English honour not to exert its power of taxation, which you seem to think, it would be to the honour and glory of England not to break through what they themselves have established, and to keep their faith religiously with their brethren in America.  And although they had no charter nor privileges, I think it would be our interest to grant them the privileges they desire; for by that alone they are become a great people, and able to assist their mother country, and by that they will be every year the more able to assist it.  And that opinion propagated with so much industry by pensioners and placemen, of their becoming independent of their mother country, is a mere chimera; they neither wish it, nor can it ever be in their power, the navigation act being a bar to it, as by that we command their trade.

3.  You observe, that the advocates for America here are enemies to their native country.  It seems as clear to me as any proposition in Euclid, that noting can preserve this country but a good correspondence with America, and that the late acts of parliament in the last sessions, must ruin that good correspondence, if put in execution.   Is it possible, that you can think that the Americans can see themselves surrounded by French Papists in Canada with indifferency; and can any good Protestant in Britain see Popery made the established religion in Canada, and the extent of that province enlarged to double of what it was, and to see slavery established there by law, and to see the trade of this country with America ruined, by which our nursery of sailors is greatly diminished, and our manufactures undone?  Can any man in Britain see with indifference, that instead of being furnished with naval stores from the northern powers of Europe, at the expense of near two millions a year, and that we are now sure of being furnished with these tings from America, in exchange for our manufactures, and that now by these acts of parliament we are in danger of losing all these advantages, and the prospect of many more, by being furnished with other things from thence, such as, Raw Silk, Fruits, Wines, &c.  It is true, Sir, we ought to regard the Americans as our brethren, and so not to encroach upon their privileges. . . .

4.  You say in defence of these acts of parliament against America, that it is time to curb them before they turn too powerful.  I am clearly of opinion with Sir Robert Walpole, that the more numerous, rich, and powerful they are, the better for their mother country, because their riches centre here; and the more numerous they are, the more occasion they have for our manufactures: and that sensible minister, as I am well informed, when pressed to tax America, always said, that the only right way to tax them was to encourage their trade with us, and their demand for our manufactures, which must increase as the number of inhabitants in America increased; for, said he, the last buyer of goods always pays the taxes raised by these goods.  This tax they don’t grudge to pay, but would grudge to pay taxes directly laid upon them by any body but their own assemblies. . . .

5. You say, our shewing our superiority is the only way to make our trade profitable with America.  Hitherto the sensible part of mankind have thought that trade was to flourish only by indulgencies, and not by force; you think quite otherways:  and I shall use no other argument to convince you of your mistake, than to refer you to the applications to parliament from most of the trading towns in England, and amongst others from London, shewing the destructive consequences to trade by the measures now followed by the ministry. . . .


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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Great Britain, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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